School of Social Work (University of Michigan) records: 1935-2010
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The first curriculum in social work at the University of Michigan was established in 1921. Staff members in sociology developed a curriculum which included background courses in the social sciences and field work. The social work program was legitimized by admission into the Association of Schools of Professional Social Work in 1925. In 1927 the regents of the university authorized a certificate in social work to be awarded to students who completed a year of work experience in addition to the undergraduate degree requirements.

In response to the demands of the Great Depression and the recommendations of a committee of prominent Detroit citizens and social work educators, the university moved to reorganize its social work curriculum. In 1935, with financial support from the Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham Fund and the McGregor Fund, the University of Michigan Institute of Health and Social Sciences was established, and was later renamed the Institute of Public and Social Administration. The institute was located in Detroit, and Robert W. Kelso, who had worked briefly at the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, was appointed as its director.

By 1945, faculty members were urging the restructuring of the Institute of Public and Social Administration and the formation of an Institute of Social Work. In order to explore the possibilities, a committee composed of faculty members from Ann Arbor was created to work with Kelso. As a result of their work, the institute remained in Detroit and designed a curriculum to enlarge the technical side of training for work in the general field of social and public welfare. It became the Institute of Social Work and included courses in social case work, group work, community organization, public welfare, research and statistics, administration, and field work.

In 1950, upon Kelso's retirement, Arthur Dunham served as the institute's acting director. That same year, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University considered merging their social work programs, or expanding one of the programs to handle all graduate education in social work in the Detroit area. After months of negotiation, Wayne State announced plans to strengthen its programs in Detroit, and the University of Michigan to reorganize its social work curriculum. The Institute of Social Work was reconstituted as the School of Social Work under the administrative direction of a dean, and the supervision of a governing faculty of the school. On March 1, 1951, the School of Social Work became the 15th school of the University of Michigan, and operations were transferred from Detroit to Ann Arbor. Fedele F. Fauri was named dean and professor of public welfare administration. He had served as director of the Michigan Department of Social Welfare, and as senior specialist in social welfare and social security of the Legislative Reference Service in Washington, D.C.

During the 1950s, the school expanded its curriculum, hired new faculty members, and strengthened its intra-university ties to the social sciences. The curriculum was enlarged to include courses in psychiatric social work, medical social work, and child welfare. Extension programs were also established in Detroit and throughout the state. Several important faculty members joined the school. Plans for the development of a specialization in group work were enhanced by the appointment of Robert Vinter in 1954. His teaching, research, and writing brought national attention to the school for leadership in education in the practice of social group work. Wilbur J. Cohen joined the faculty in 1956. Cohen had been director of Research and Statistics, Social Security Administration, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. He came to the school after twenty-one years of federal service. Intra-university connections were improved in 1953 when an interdisciplinary faculty seminar on the research basis of welfare practice was begun. It was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and headed by David G. French. The seminar resulted in the creation of a Coordinating Committee on Social Welfare Research chaired by sociology Professor Amos Hawley. This committee developed plans for a program of advanced training and research in social work and the social sciences leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in social work.

In the 1960s, social work faculty members served in numerous positions of leadership in shaping national and state social welfare policies. Professor Wilbur Cohen was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as chairman of the Task Force on Health and Social Security, and as assistant secretary for legislation of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cohen was appointed secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Dean Fedele Fauri served as a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Public Welfare of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and was elected president of the American Public Welfare Association in 1966. Robert Vinter worked on the State of Michigan Governor's Task Force on Juvenile Delinquency, and as consultant to President Johnson's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime.

Curriculum changes, re-accreditation, and expanded enrollment occupied the school in the 1960s. The curriculum was broadened to meet the new demands of the decade and included more emphasis on course work rather than field work. The accreditation review spurred greater faculty-student interaction, as student representatives met with various task forces and served as members of the Curriculum Committee. In 1965 students formed the Student Union, which formalized student participation in school decision-making processes, and granted students seats on several school committees. An emphasis on recruitment of minorities resulted in a higher number of minority students and led to the formation of the Association of Black Social Work Students and of the Hispanic student organization, Trabajadores de la Raza. Due to an increase in financial aid opportunities through grants and scholarships, the school experienced a subsequent increase in enrollment. By 1968, the school ranked first among the seventy-five accredited schools of social work in the United States in enrollment, number of full-time students, and the number of M.S.W. degrees granted each year.

In July 1971, Dean Fauri was appointed Vice President for State Relations and Planning at the university, and Associate Dean Vinter served as acting dean. In September 1971, the Regents appointed Phillip Fellin as dean and Richard English and Shiela Feld as assistant deans. The school's governing faculty continued to provide for a Faculty Council, which served in an advisory capacity to the dean on school affairs.

In 1973, the school's ten year re-accreditation review prompted a renewed emphasis on minority recruitment and an assessment of the minority-relevant content of course offerings at the school. The School of Social Work led the university in minority enrollment, as it had done for some time, and reached 21 percent minority enrollment in 1976. Over 68 percent of the student body was comprised of women. In 1976 it was one of only seven schools to receive over 1,000 applications for its master's program, ranking second only to Columbia University. Another outcome of the re-accreditation review was the development of closer ties to other university departments, and to state and local social agencies.

On July 1, 1981, Harold R. Johnson was appointed dean following the retirement of Phillip Fellin. Prior to becoming dean, Johnson had served as director of the Institute of Gerontology from 1974 to 1981. Johnson's appointment marked a change in leadership and direction of the school. Greater prominence and support were given to teaching and research, and service activities were de-emphasized. At a time when schools of social work around the country faced diminishing resources and were being pressed to provide professional social workers with greater skills, the school embarked on a curriculum overhaul. The curriculum was completely revised to provide students with multiple practice skills, expertise in a field of service, and the capacity to assess and evaluate professional practice. The extent of the curriculum revision was expressed in the words of the Council of Social Work Education in its 1983 re-accreditation report. The report called the reforms a "courageous major revision of a well-established curriculum to conform to the reality of social practice knowledge and skills which graduates will be called upon to possess if they are to meet the needs of the profession in the changing world around us."

During Johnson's tenure as dean, from 1981 to 1993, the school continued to promote cultural and ethnic diversity. Those goals continued under Johnson's successor, Paula Allen-Meares who became dean in 1993. Major fundraising initiatives helped to focus research on poverty, racial inequalities, children and families, and also allowed the school to move forward on plans for a new building. In 1995 ground was broken for the new School of Social Work Building, designed by Sims-Varner Associates of Detroit. It was intended to foster a sense of community, with pods of faculty offices arranged around open stairways and the glass walls of its state-of-the-art library open to the lobby, lounge and corridors above. The building was officially dedicated on September 25, 1998.

Further information on the school and its programs can be found at the following URL:

Directors and Deans of the School of Social Work

1935-1950 Robert W. Kelso (Director)
1950-1951 Arthur Dunham (Acting Director)
1951-1970 Fedele A. Fauri
1970-1971 Robert Vinter (Acting Dean)
1971-1981 Phillip Fellin
1981-1993 Harold R. Johnson
1993-2008 Paula Allen-Meares
2008-2009 John Tropman (Interim)
2009-2016 Laura Lein
2016 Ruth Dunkle (Interim)
2016- Lynn Videka

Administrative Unit Titles

1935-1946 Institute of Public and Social Administration
1946-1951 Institute of Social Work
1951- School of Social Work